I had mixed feelings about that. Of course I want my friends to see me as helpful and reliable, but I hadn't realized I "didn't have to work." In fact, I could have sworn I'd stayed up until 3:00 A.M. just that morning to help one of my many clients finish a last-minute editing project.
I know I'm not the only freelancer who runs into this dilemma. Many of the writers I know who work from home report that their friends and family members feel free to call, drop by, or ask them to run errands during the days.
These same people, of course, would never dream of barging into a brick-and-mortar workplace with similar demands.
So, what can you do if your loved ones treat you as though you don't have a "real" job?
These suggestions may help.
1. Commit to working a certain number of hours. Right now, my goal is a 50-hour work week: Eight hours Monday through Friday with half days on the weekend. I allow for some flexibility, for instance, if I have a daytime appointment, I might work a half day on Tuesday and a full day on Saturday, but the 50 hours is non-negotiable. Knowing that I'm accountable for those hours makes it easier to plan my time and set boundaries.
2. Practice saying "no." No is a word that doesn't come easily to most women and many men. We've been told that it's wrong to appear harsh, uncompromising, or perhaps worst of all, indifferent to the needs of others. When we do say no, we try to sugarcoat the message with excuses or promises of assistance in the future. The truth is, when you can't do something, it's okay to say no and leave it at that. Stand in front of the mirror and practice saying, "I'm sorry; I won't be able to help you with that." Keep saying it until the words come naturally.
3. Educate friends and family. Other people generally teach us exactly as we teach them to treat us. If a behavior is unacceptable, they can't figure that out by reading our minds. Instead, you have to say, "I can't talk right now because I'm working. I'll finish up around 6:00," or "I can't run errands for you Monday because I work during the daytime." If you set clear boundaries and stand by them, the people who care about you will learn to respect them.
4. Make yourself unavailable. If you're tired of explaining to your mother for the hundredth time that you don't have time to talk during the days, simply turn off the phone. I have different phone numbers for personal use and business use, and I frequently silence or just plain ignore my personal phone until my work day is over. I also make myself unavailable on Skype unless I'm scheduled to receive a call from a client.
5. Beware of email. I get many emails from my friends. They send me personal messages, jokes, warning about dangers that are nothing but urban legends, quotes, and all other manner of communications. I've set a rule that I don't read or respond to email messages from friends or family until my work day is over. I check my email several times a day--that's how most of my clients choose to contact me--but I only respond to business-related messages.
6. Delegate when possible. Use your imagination. Even if you're a one-person business, you can still find a way to enlist outside help. One of my friends, for instance, has a grandmother who likes to get out during the days. The problem is that her grandmother does not have a car, so my friend was drafted to provide transportation. After a few miserable weeks of getting very little done, my friend finally hired a senior companion service to take her grandmother to run errands twice a week. Now everyone is happy, and my friend is only on tap for emergencies.
Work-at-home professionals frequently have to deal with others' mistaken beliefs that working from home means not working at all. If you're a freelance writer, it's up to you to set and maintain the boundaries you need to keep the clients and the money flowing.